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Board aims to expand Carson Park

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Carson Park's board members have big plans for the county-owned horse park.

They'd like to see it become a regional horse park, offering therapeutic and recreational riding opportunities.

"I feel like Luther Carson was so generous by giving Carson Park to the county," Carson Park board member Sandra DeWeese said. "I want everybody to enjoy this park."

Currently, park leaders are limited in planning because they operate on grants and donations. They're seeking grant funding to renovate the outdoor horse arena, which is in serious need of new footing. The current footing hasn't been replaced since the '70s, and when it rains, the park cannot host a horse show.

But the arena is the largest outdoor arena in the Purchase, DeWeese said.

The grant the park board is applying for would also be used to buy equipment to help maintain the arena and footing.

The park leaders' other plans are merely wants and dreams at this point, as they haven't found funding.

What they're hoping to see is a new covered riding arena near the south end of the half-mile track, two new outdoor riding arenas, replacement of the existing horse barn used for a theraupetic riding program, a new indoor riding arena for the therapeutic program, as well as replacement of the fencing that surrounds the property and a riding trail. The trail could include sensory features such as chimes and bridges, especially for those in the therapeutic riding program, DeWeese said.

Eventually, DeWeese would like to see a concession area, a carousel, a small park area for kids and a new retail building at the front entrance of the park where riders can buy horse tack and visitors can learn about the area. The board's master plan comes with the intention of renovating the park in increments over time with specific buildings receiving higher priority. The 30-acre park, which was established in 1934 when Luther Carson donated the property to the county to be used for horse riding, boasts the second-oldest half-mile riding track in Kentucky.

But because the facilities aren't up to date, DeWeese said, the existing outdoor riding arena is only host to a handful of shows per year. A new covered riding arena alongside the existing bleachers at the half-mile track would also open the venue to larger shows, such as 4-H shows or a major rodeo.

"That will enable us to draw big crowds," she said.

Top on the board's list is the special needs barn for therapeutic riding, which is set to be 80-by-200 feet in size. A 130-by-200 foot arena attached to the barn would allow for the local Horses Inc. program, which provides therapeutic riding opportunities to individuals and children with disabilities, to operate year round. Currently, they cannot ride when it's too hot or cold outside.

The facilities would also be open to the public and ideally would have a barn manager, DeWeese said. Currently, individuals who house their horses at the park must handle all care themselves. While the group is working to obtain grants, it's also organizing a fundraising committee to help raise donations for the park's revitalization. All of the plans combined could cost between $2 million and $3 million. The special needs barn is estimated to cost about $1 million.

The board has also been working over recent years to improve the park within the budget it has. Carson Park Board President Randy Wiersma said the historic Floral Hall meeting house building on the southeast edge of the park near the entrance has improved "tremendously" with the installation of air conditioning and heating, which has made it a venue for weddings.

The board's vision for the park overall is to make it a place where schools can bring students, the community can gather and horse riders can consider it western Kentucky's premiere location for all equestrian activities.

"A lot of horse parks in the country are clear lots with buildings," DeWeese said. "We want it to be a park-like setting."

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